About a year and a half ago, work issued me my first iPhone. My wife and I to that point had been trying to avoid having a cellphone and were at a point where we couldn’t really do so much longer, simply because if I wasn’t at the office, she’d have no way to reach me (nor would anyone at work unless I was near a wi-fi connection).
Then the iPhone came home. And in some ways, it was glorious. We were able to communicate when necessary. Work could always find me when they needed me… Then we started to see the downside of this new device in that we became very, very aware of the connected-ness in a way that we hadn’t been before. Then there was the distraction. I’m naturally a fidgeter and began to find myself almost unconsciously grabbing my phone and begin fiddling with it. Before long, I found myself asking, “Who is in control here—my phone or me?”
Tim Challies gets this question. As a web developer and longtime blogger (in addition to being a pastor and author), Challies sees and interacts with digital technology on a regular basis—so much so that he’s found himself asking the same kinds of questions:
Am I giving up control of my life? Is it possible that these technologies are changing me? Am I becoming a tool of the very tools that are supposed to serve me?
These motivated him to write The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, where he seeks to help readers build not only a theoretical and experiential understanding of technology, but a theological one as well.
The first three chapters of the book are spent dealing with the theological, theoretical and experiential background of technology. On the theological side, Challies is quick to note that God’s command to the first man that he subdue the earth and have dominion over it (cf. Gen. 1:28) implicitly commands us to create technology, whether it’s a hammer or a computer, and this creative impulse is glorifying to God:
God’s basic instruction to mankind is to develop the resources of the natural world and use God-given abilities to bring glory to him. To put it in more practical terms, God is glorified in our creativity, whether that leads us to craft a painting that moves our hearts to praise or to design a plow that will better allow us to plant and harvest a crop.
Where things go wrong is when we forget that, by virtue of the fall, our hearts are prone to wander from glorifying God to glorifying ourselves and our created things. “That iPhone in your pocket is not an ‘evil’ device,” he explains. “Yet it is prone to draw your heart away from God, to distract you and enable you to rely on your own abilities rather than trusting God.”
That’s where I think a lot of us get a bit messed up. It’s really easy for us to become very firm in our stance on the morality of a certain piece of technology in one of two extremes—either seeing it as a wonderful thing without thinking about the implications, or seeing it as a tool of Satan delivered straight from the pit of hell to the mall. Both positions do us a great disservice. Instead of being simplistic about our approach to technology, Challies reminds us that, as in all things, we must be discerning in how we use it.
As Challies moves through the theological to the theoretical and experiential, this is confirmed as he reminds us of two very important things:
- Technology shapes how we interact with others and the world around us; and
- Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that to be undiscerning about our use of it is to do so at our peril. “We are starting to see that though we made these technologies in our image, they are eager to return the favor.”
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a fidgeter, so to keep me from fidgeting with my iPhone at the dinner table, I place it on the mantle or the window sill—someplace where it is out of reach and generally out of sight. This prevents me from playing with it at the expense of family time.
In part two of The Next Story, Challies focuses on application, moving through issues of communication, relationships, distractions, information, truth and visibility/privacy. At the time of my reading of this book, I was at the Gospel Coalition National Conference, and I had the opportunity to see how technology, when used well, can facilitate relationships as I had the chance to have unmediated conversations with many people with whom I’d otherwise only connect with via email, Twitter or Facebook. Similarly, I also realized how prone to distraction I am as I realized I was attempting to read eight books at the same time (some digital, others print). I’ve got more options in front of me than ever before, but I don’t feel like I can always make a confident decision—too much choice actually cripples me from making any choice at all!
Content aside, what impressed me the most about The Next Story is the growth in Tim’s writing. A couple years back I was introduced to his work with his first book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, and while I found the content extremely valuable, I noticed it read more like a series of blog posts rather than a book. The Next Story, on the other hand, reads like a book (if that makes sense). Everything feels connected and essential to communicating the book’s message.
Something we cannot take for granted is that technology is only going to become more prevalent in our lives. The internet isn’t going to become less important as time goes on (unless something better is built), and email is going to move toward wiping out most traditional letter writing. So it’s essential that we all—especially Christians—know how to relate to technology. To think critically and biblically about how we use it and why. If you’re looking for a resource to help deal with these issues, The Next Story is a great place to start. Grab a copy, read through it with your spouse or friends and see how it might challenge you in your use of technology.
Title: The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion
Author: Tim Challies
Publisher: Zondervan (2011)